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A new taste map? Sweet! Image courtesy of Flickr user zozo2k3.

Did you grow up believing the tongue maps you saw in your classrooms were real? If you did, you might be surprised to hear there’s almost no scientific evidence that the tongue is portioned out in those neat little segments, each one responsible for a particular taste. (We explained where this myth originated on a recent episode of Distillations.) However, scientists have recently revealed what they believe to be a new and accurate taste map located not on the tongue but in the brain.

In the September 2, 2011 issue of Science, Columbia University neuroscientists Charles Zuker and his team published a paper showing that particular neuron clusters in the gustatory cortex correspond to saltiness, sweetness, bitterness, and umami. (Brother sour was missing; with the researchers speculating that it may beyond the area they studied.) Using two-photon calcium imaging, they decided that basic tastes are determined in “a precise and spatially ordered way.”

The scientific community seems particularly abuzz about this research because taste is the last of the senses to be properly mapped in the brain. Join us in welcoming it to the club, as it is arguably one of the most essential senses. And also join us in pushing the rudimentary tongue map further into obscurity!

Jennifer Dionisio is the program associate for CHF’s Eddleman Institute.

Related:
Episode 129: Taste [Distillations]
A Taste Sensation [Chemical Heritage]

Posted In: History | Technology

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